The Lights of London Town

I am continually failing at controlling my addiction to buying magic lantern slides on ebay. I have just received in the post two remaining life-model slides out of what had originally been a set of four made, Richard Crangle’s estimable Lucerna magic lantern web resource tells me, by York & Son in 1892 to illustrate the 1880 poem by the massively famous melodramatist and social reformer George R Sims.


The Lights of London Town


The way was long and weary,

But gallantly they strode,

A country lad and lassie,

Along the weary road.

The night was dark and stormy,

But blithe of heart were they,

For shining in the distance

The Lights of London lay.


O gleaming lamps of London,

That gem the City’s crown,

What fortunes lie within you,

O Lights of London town.


The years passed on and found them

Within the mighty fold,

The years had brought them trouble,

But brought them little gold.

Oft from their garret window,

On long still summer nights,

They’d seek the far-off country,

Beyond the London Lights.


O mocking lamps of London,

What weary eyes look down,

And mourn the day they saw you,

O lights of London town


With faces worn and weary,

That told of sorrow’s load,

One day a man and woman

Crept down a country road.

They sought their native village,

Heart broken from the fray;

Yet shining still behind them,

The Lights of London lay.


O cruel lamps of London,

If tears your light could drown,

Your victims’ eyes would weep them,

O lights of London Town.


George R. Sims 1880


I love the zoom-in from distant St Pauls, framed by trees in the first slide and barely visible except perhaps in projection, to close-up St Pauls (in exactly the same spot on the screen) framed by the garret window in the second slide. I love the way, in the second slide, the poverty-signifier of the bare walls visually constricts London down to the single schematic London logo. Sims used the same theme for his smash hit play The Lights of London, which was filmed twice in the twentieth century, most recently in 1923. Of course subsequently these something more, walk on the wild side thematics permeated popular culture. Although, perhaps nowadays the urban moths of pop songs, films and art are more likely to be single chancers, rather than eloping couples.

The Lights of London, slide 2 of 4.

The Lights of London, slide 2 of 4.

The Lights of London, slide 3 of 4.

The Lights of London, slide 3 of 4.

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